Profiling non-partisan local lists in south west Norway
In recent years, an increasing number of Norwegians have been claiming that local democracy is in crisis. Low voter turnout in the 1990s has been perceived as particularly worrying whereas further symptoms of the “crisis” relate to recruitment problems encountered by many local party organisations in finding local election candidates. Accompanying these developments has been a steady growth in the number of non-partisan lists (NPLs) presented in Norway’s 435 commune council elections. In competing for votes with the established political parties, many of these local political actors have been notably successful. Despite this fact, very little research has focused exclusively on these NPLs. The phenomenon of non-partisan lists has been acknowledged as representing a heterogeneous category with ‘rural community lists’ and ‘single-issue’ or ‘protest’ lists having been most commonly referred to. Nevertheless, qualitative interpretation into the nature of these alternatives has been lacking. Having explored the characteristics of a selection of these NPLs within communes in Western Norway, it is quite evident that these local groups offer an important and additional outlet for democratic participation. They are not necessarily opposed to the established parties and in terms of organisation, campaigning, geographical and/or issue association the characteristics of these NPLs are diverse. Even so, the distinctiveness of NPLs as a phenomenon is questionable and in many respects it can be argued that the political parties and these NPLs are not significantly different entities at the local political level. Indeed, an exploration into the potential electoral appeal of these NPLs serves as a healthy reminder that local politics matter and that it is not just national politics and national issues that influence commune council election results. In many respects, a study of these NPLs adds important knowledge to the true (and differing) nature of political representation and elections at the lowest level of sub-national government.